Creepshow 2 (Blu-ray)Gordon Sullivan
3 blood curdling tales of horror!
Though other horror directors can claim to be more influential, George Romero is uniquely responsible for the modern zombie film. And in the world of horror literature, Stephen King has pretty much reigned supreme since 1972’s (?) Carrie. Both got their start around the same time – Night Of The Living Dead came out in 1968; King published his first story in 1967. It was logical that the two would eventually meet, and the result, Creepshow, is a horror anthology classic. Five years later they got another crack at it, with Romero adapting three King stories to be directed by Romero’s long-time DP Michael Gornick. Creepshow 2 is a decent effort that suffers in comparison to its predecessor. But for fans, this Blu-ray is the one to own.
Creepshow 2 features a frame story about a young boy dealing with bullies. In between we get three tales of terror. “Old Chief Woodn’head” is about a Native American gentleman who deposits some precious cargo at a general store. When the store is robbed, supernatural shenanigans result. “The Raft” follows a group of college kids who decide to go swimming at an isolated lake. When they get out into the middle of the lake, they discover that something in the water has designs on them. “The Hitch-hiker” is a take on the classic formula of a woman who hits a hitchhiker with her car, but still sees him even though she left him for dead.
Stephen King is justly famous for the sheer amount of writing he’s produced in the 50 years he’s been plying his craft. Most people know that because he seems to publish a door-stopper of a novel every year. But he’s also a pretty prolific as a short story writer. I think it was Harlan Ellison who claimed that eventually they’d be a more significant part of his legacy than his novels (or screenplays).
That’s important, because Creepshow 2 draws on his short stories as grist for the narrative mill. What makes King an interesting writer of short stories is his ability to invest familiar horror elements with interesting effects on the page. Few of his short stories are wildly original. Instead, he finds a strong way to tell a fairly familiar tale, and he captures something wonderful about the way people talk and act that elevates his stories above most other writers.
Which is another way of saying that none of the three stories in Creepshow 2 is particularly inventive. “Woodn’head” is the story of a mystical object that guards a Native American. “The Raft” is a typical story of a bunch of teens being menaced in the wilderness. And “The Hitch-hiker” is exactly what you’d think from the title. In King’s hands, these stories are infused with pathos and an attention to ordinary language that’s admirable.
The issue with Creepshow 2 is that nothing about the production elevates the workmanlike narratives. Instead, the film kinda blandly executes the stories in a way that feels competent, but doesn’t have the spark that Romero brought to King’s stories in the first CREEPSHOW. Part of the problem is budgetary. The original plan for Creepshow 2 called for five short stories to be adapted, but two were cut before filming began (one ended up in Tales from the Darkside: The Movie).
I don’t want to be too hard on Creepshow 2. Horror anthology films are difficult to get right. They often suffer from an unevenness in terms of the different stories they wrap together. The framing narrative is almost always terrible, and that’s certainly the case here. The EC Comics inspired Cryptkeeper-type called “The Creep.” It’s meant to be a bit camp and comics-y, but the frame tale here falls short of the excellence of the first Creepshow. But it’s only because Creepshow is kind of a classic in the anthology-horror world that Creepshow 2 suffers. “Woodn’head” is fine, if a bit predictable. “The Hitch-hiker” wrings some good moments out of a well-worn premise. “The Raft” is probably the best of the stories. The simplicity of the premise – isolated couples menaced on a raft in the middle of a lake – is the perfect vehicle for terror and the kind of premise that would drag if it were expanded to feature length.
All of this is to say that Creepshow 2 isn’t bad, and it obviously has its fans if this Blu-ray is anything to judge by. Arrow have gone and produced their own 2K restoration from the 35mm interpositive. The resulting 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is largely excellent. Damage isn’t a significant problem, and detail shines on the largely-organic grain structure. Textures really pop, and colors have a nice saturation to them. Black levels are deep and consistent. The only problem of note is that occasionally grain gets a bit blocky, but overall the image looks amazing for a film of this budget. We get three audio options on this release, and they’re pretty solid as well. We get a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track that adds a few immersive effects but largely keeps the focus on dialogue up front. Then we get LPCM mono and stereo tracks for the purists. It doesn’t sound like the same level of TLC has been applied to the mono and stereo track so they sound a bit rougher, but they’re both very listenable and give that old-time feeling.
Extras start with a commentary featuring Perry Martin moderating a discussion with Gornick ported over from a pervious edition. It moves at a solid pace and features lots of production stories. We also get a series of interviews. Romero shows up to chat about his screenplay, Tom Savini talks about his make-up work on the film, Daniel Beer talks about the difficulties of filming “The Raft,’ while Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (of KNB EFX) chat about their effects work on the film. A brief interview with Howard Berger talking about effects pioneer Rick Baker is also ported from a previous release. There’s also 5 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, an image gallery, the film’s trailers and a TV spot. The film’s script is available as a BD-ROM enable extra.
Creepshow 2 isn’t for everyone – it’s certainly not as strong as the first entry in the series (and the less said about Creepshow 3, the better). For fans, this is the Blu-ray to own, both for the upgraded audiovisual presentation and the lovely extras.